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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 105. The storm grows ever worse

I stop in my tracks. Master halts beside me, of course, as I have been pulling him along to this point, his hand resting on my neck immediately behind my ears. With my head lowered, the better to struggle onward and upward, I seem to be serving him as a convenient walking stick. So now we stand together. His fingers, entwined in my mane, twitch slightly, though the movement feels stiff to me, as if he is having difficulty making them work. We stand as one, as I have said, heads bowed, blowing hard. Without my help – to this point, we have been fighting our way through the snow together – I do not think he is capable of going on.

Perhaps he feels the same, as I hear him mutter, ‘My feet are like lead.’

And then, still leaning heavily upon my neck, using me as a brace, he turns himself about. I feel him stiffen for some reason, and then he must brace himself further as a sudden gust of the whistling wind slams into us. He loses his footing momentarily and is thrown against my shoulder by the force of the blast. I plant my feet, resolving to stand firm until he can regain his balance, and after, so long as he needs my support, though the wind seems determined to scour the both of us from this ledge. Leaning against me, he takes a deep breath – I can feel his chest expand against my shoulder, so close are we standing – and shouts the names of the other hobbits again, at the top of his lungs. ‘Pip! Merry! Sam!’

And I suddenly realise that I cannot perceive my Sam or the not-Merry cousin, not at all. I felt them pull their hands from my harness not long after we stopped. Perhaps they also missed Youngest’s voice, when they were shouting in answer to the Master’s earlier hails.

Hearing eerie noises in the darkness round us, I shudder. What new devilry is this? I think to myself. It is something I have heard the Other Big Man (the one with the shield) mutter, but it seems to fit our situation well at the moment, and I can imagine him muttering it now, though with the shrieking and moaning in the air around us, doubtless it would go unheard by even the most sharp-eared among us.

And then I feel Master straighten, and much of his weight is removed from me, and his voice, calling over the wind, is eager. ‘Merry!’ I turn my head back to see a small group emerge from the blowing snow, trudging up behind us.

‘We’ve got him!’ not-Merry shouts, and truth be told, he and my Sam have Youngest between them, his arms over their shoulders as they half-carry him along. ‘He was lagging behind! But we’ve got him!’

I hear Youngest’s breathless protest. ‘I wasn’t lagging!’

Dragging, then!’ not-Merry cries above the storm. And then they have reached us, and Master moves to take Youngest’s arm from my Sam.

‘He’s frozen halfway to a snow-hobbit, Mr Frodo,’ my Sam says urgently, and I hear him clearly in the sudden slackening of the wind before it begins to howl once more.

I see Master’s nod. He leans Youngest against my shaggy barrel and the bulk of burdens that rear above my back and begins to rub at the younger hobbit’s arm, with a vigour that belies the fact we’ve been climbing the side of a mountain for more than half the night. Not-Merry quickly follows suit, and, seeming oblivious to the surrounding storm, the cousins rub and chafe as if they would rub life and warmth back into Youngest’s limbs by their actions. I crane my head around as far as it will go and rub my face against his torso as he sags in his cousins’ grasp, and I think that perhaps he is about to swoon. His hands and face are as white as the snow surrounding us, and I can feel his violent shivers as he leans against my side. He does not speak again, and his head droops. Never pausing from their efforts to rub life back into him, the older cousins speak words of encouragement and entreaty.

The world has shrunk to our small party, and it is as if we are alone on the side of the Mountain here. Perhaps the rest will go on to the Gate without us, and not even miss us in the blowing snow.

Youngest jerks at the sound of a shrill cry on the wind. ‘W-w-w-what w-was that?’ he demands, lifting his head to gaze around wildly. ‘There’s s-something here with us...’

At these signs of life, Master chafes Youngest’s hand between his own with even more energy. ‘Naught!’ he shouts determinedly. ‘It’s only a trick of the wind, I’m sure. No sane creature would be out and about in this storm.’

‘Blowing in the cracks of the rocks in the wall,’ not-Merry agrees.

‘And gullies,’ Master confirms. ‘Just a trick of the wind, like your breath over the blow-hole of your flute.’

‘Tha-that’s not a t-trick, it’s skill!’ Youngest insists, and I see the older cousins exchange a worried look at his slurring nonsense.

‘Only a trick of the wind,’ Master repeats, with no more mention of flutes or blow-holes.

‘Then why is it laughing?’ Youngest wants to know, and truly, the wild howls do resemble my old misery and his mates staggering drunkenly back from the Prancing Pony late on a summer’s evening, hooting at some coarse jest one or another has made. And then Youngest shouts into the wind – Hoi! – and he pulls his hand from Master’s efforts and shakes his fist at the storm. ‘What’s so comical, I’d like to know!’

‘Steady, lad,’ Master says to him, and to my Sam, he adds, ‘Samwise, can you rub his feet and legs? We’ve got to get his blood flowing!’

And of course my Sam bends at once, and now all three older hobbits are working over Youngest as if he is a bone, and they are all dogs worrying at him. I do my part by standing firm to prop him upright.


Author notes:

Some thoughts here are derived from “The Ring Goes South” from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Next update: Friday


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